Onwards and upwards at Heathrow

Onwards and upwards at Heathrow

Nick Platts, Head of Cargo at Heathrow, speaks exclusively to Freight Industry Times about the importance of the third runway, building closer ties with freight forwarders and shippers, and tackling the air cargo industry’s biggest challenge – its inability to seriously deliver on e-freight. 

How important is the final go-ahead on the third runway at Heathrow in realising the short, medium and long-term ambitions of Heathrow’s cargo services?

Heathrow’s cargo strategy was launched in 2015 and sets out our plans to make Heathrow’s cargo proposition timely, predictable and easy. It’s a 15-year programme of transformation tackling aspects related to our infrastructure, common processes and our people. These improvements are needed regardless of a third runway and would be delivered anyway, however they become critical with a third runway if we’re to grow UK trade. 

Heathrow’s goal is to transport three million tonnes of cargo per year by 2040. Do you think this is a realistic target?

Our goal is to make Heathrow the best large airport in Europe for timely, predictable and easy cargo services. The third runway would allow us to grow our capacity to three million tonnes but it’s down to the freight forwarders to make use of that capacity. We need to ensure Heathrow delivers more predictable, faster throughput times than today and makes it easier for service providers to operate at Heathrow. That way, we ensure our airline partners are able to maximise their revenues.

How important is your working relationship with freight customers, forwarders and shippers? And how can they adapt to maximise the potential of what Heathrow has to offer?

Our relationship with cargo consumers and our customers (the freight forwarders) is extremely important as they decide which European cargo gateway to use. We need to ensure that Heathrow delivers what they expect from an international hub airport.  For us to do that, we need to work closely with them to understand their own growth strategies, the global trade trends and be ready to incorporate automation when the industry starts adopting it more broadly than they do today. Heathrow will be working more closely with IATA and local trade associations to understand what role the airport has in helping the local cargo community transition to paperless processes, so I encourage all of those in the supply chain to accelerate their migration to e-freight as that will be the default basis for all our future projects.

Heathrow is Britain’s largest port by value, but does it get the recognition it deserves?

I’ll let others judge whether Heathrow gets enough recognition. From my perspective, we’ve come a long way in the last three years and I believe air cargo is now getting more attention than it used to here in the UK. It feels as though consumers, businesses and government are all much more aware of the vital role played by the air cargo industry and the central role that Heathrow plays in connecting the UK with global trade.

CEBR analysis recently identified that 30 per cent of UK trade (by value) per year went through Heathrow, and that the value of this cargo increased by 150 per cent in the past decade – how do you see future projections of trade figures developing?

I’m not an economist nor a forecaster, so will simply point to the correlation between global GDP growth and air cargo growth. Heathrow is directly impacted by global trade growth so I fully expect we will continue to track what happens across the globe.

Has your role as the airport’s Head of Cargo developed and changed over time and what do you see as future challenges?

My role as Head of Cargo hasn’t changed since I wrote my own role profile in 2014. I think there are two key challenges – the first is related to the level of fragmentation in the industry as it means there are a lot of companies we need to engage with and opinions we need to reconcile, which is a significant time commitment for a small team; the second is related to how willing the industry is to invest in automation as a means of achieving better collaboration, by which I mean adoption of digitalisation rather than just digitisation.

What do you envisage as the key opportunities and challenges, in terms of air cargo, for Heathrow, UK airports in general, and the global air freight marketplace?

It’s time for the industry to seriously deliver e-freight. We’ve been left behind by other industries and risk losing market share to other modes of transport or the emerging disruptors. It’s very hard to provide modern services without modern tools.